Onrec logo The Online Recruitment Resource

Onrec Online Recruitment Magazine Feature: Psychometrics in 2016 - a panacea for all?

By Lauren Mackelden, Features Editor, Onrec Online Recruitment Magazine

Psychometrics has a huge remit now - engaging passive candidates with games as well as sifting through applicants objectively, portraying employer brand, building teams, helping career development- how can they really do all this? Are they a panacea to solve all your recruiting ills? Our experts tell us more about their potential…

Psychometric assessments play an important part in modern selection processes, says James Bywater, Director of Product & Innovation at Talent Q.  This is because they are fair and objective as everyone is asked to do the same task, regardless of age, gender or anything else that can get misused or misinterpreted. “They provide information on skills and abilities that are hard to measure via other methods – team skills, analysis and tolerance of ambiguity for example. They are also valid predictors of future job performance, much superior to other, less structured approaches. Their use continues to grow, especially in large international and global organisations.”  According to the Aberdeen Group’s May 2015 report, smart organisations increasingly use pre-hire assessments to better inform hiring decisions and ultimately positively impact their return on investment. They also state ‘Businesses that use pre-hire assessments are 36% more likely than all others to be satisfied with their new hires.’

The range of  test providers has changed, with Bywater reporting  that there have been a lot of mergers and acquisitions of formerly smaller, UK based, test publishers by large, international US businesses eg Saville, Talent Q, SHL etc. He feels this has resulted in a more global orientation, more use in USA, increasingly addressing big, macro level questions about employee capability, strategic alignment and global positioning by comparing people with large databases and raises the subject of ‘big data’.

James Bywater also notes that candidate use of social media to discuss and share both accurate information and inaccurate ‘disinformation’ about psychometrics continues to cause concern for users. Bywater believes online adaptive testing continues to lead the way as the most sophisticated testing methodology, saying: “Here, the assessment adapts to the performance of the candidate - increasing the question difficulty if they answer correctly and decreasing difficulty if they get it wrong. These tests deliver fast, robust and secure assessment of an individual in a way that traditional tests don’t. Talent Q applies this methodology to ability tests and also situational judgement tests, ensuring the ultimate balance of speed, security and rigour.”

Potential of gamification

This subject remains unclear, according to Bywater. Gamification is thought to make websites ‘sticky’ with people spending more time on them. This can be a good way to capture and ‘keep warm’ talented applicants who pause to view an organisation online but it is not clear how far or how quickly organisations will want to move these “games” into the selection stage.  In Bywater’s opinion, before they do this they will want to ascertain:

  • Which elements of gamification add value – is it ‘leader boards’ or ‘token systems, or the graphics used?
  • Is the system stable, accessible to all applicants’ technologies, and globally applicable?
  • Is it fair for different ages, genders and socio economic groups?
  • How far do candidates want the assessment process for a serious work job to be fun?
  • How long will a gamified process last before it becomes dated?

David Barrett, Chief Operating Officer at international assessment specialist cut-e agrees that gamification provides an engaging user experience. “Games are traditionally geared around learning something, so they have a slightly different objective than assessment. They can be useful in early stage attraction, alongside aptitude, motivation or other behavioural assessments.” Of course the best games are custom built, as no organisation wants to use the same game as a competitor, so these are not going to be for everyone’s budget. At cut-e, they offer games with live feedback where the user’s performance changes how the game responds. Barrett explains that another downside is that their shelf life tends to be short and it can be a challenge to create multiple language versions of a game.

Barrett tells Onrec they are introducing voice recognition technology at his company, which evaluates psychometric qualities around personality, motivation and cognitive capability by analysing a candidate’s vocabulary, tone and syntax. This is used to add value to the analysis of their video interviews. Also, he says with the ubiquity of mobile devices, employers want to put candidates in control and make it easy for them to complete assessments whenever they want.

However, Barrett warns care is needed here as the tests have to be accurate, fair and compatible with the right devices. He says that at cut-e, they’ve transferred from Flash to HTML5 to achieve this. The concern is that it’s a delicate balance to create an aesthetic user experience on a mobile device that doesn’t compromise basic testing principles. Interestingly, Barrett says just because you ‘can’ deliver on all devices doesn’t mean you ‘should’. For example, he points out some ability tests may be unsuitable for smartphone screens as they have too much information to display. “They may work perfectly well on tablets, which offer a bigger screen. It’s therefore important to specify which devices candidates can use for each test. Get it right and mobile assessment can help you engage with wider talent pools and recruit your talent faster.”

How will tests help employers & jobseekers in the next year?

More employers are now using Realistic Job Previews and Situational Judgement Questionnaires to give prospective candidates an insight into the role and the organisation before they apply. For example, these are used by cut-e to help easyJet recruit cabin crew positions in 30 countries. These interactive experiences provide a realistic insight into the job and they help prospective candidates find out if the role and easyJet’s values, are appropriate for them. As a result, easyJet only receives applications from candidates who are suited and enthusiastic.

Employers are also using assessments in internal talent development and to help employees further their own careers. For example, at cut-e, they’ve built an internal assessment for Dubai Duty Free which assesses the strengths, interests and behaviour of their 7,000 staff at Dubai Airport. Individuals can then be automatically identified and matched with future jobs that might suit them.

App based psychometrics

The hot-topic right now is app-based psychometric testing.  Oliver Savill, at Test Partnership says: “We’re already seeing the early stages of this revolution with current smartphone apps, but this is just the beginning, and in 2016 someone is going to crack the holy-grail of psychometrics; valid psychometric assessment delivered through a smartphone app.” Candidates have been crying out for a more user-friendly testing experience, and employers are focusing on inclusion, he says. “Apps solve this engagement issue, and chime with employers’ move to include a more diverse talent pool.  Hiring tainted by unconscious bias is out, hiring based on fair assessment and meritocracy is in. Big data has finally arrived in the world of employee assessment.”

Savill predicts a whole new way of doing things: “In 2016 I see the traditional model of psychometric testing being inverted. Instead of candidates taking multiple tests for each employer, they will take just one set of tests once, and employers will pay to access this central database of scores.  This makes sense because different employers are all assessing the same thing, and candidates don’t want to get put through the mill each time they apply for a job.  This rationalised model has taken off with selection tests such as the GMAT, GRE, and Bloomberg Aptitude Test, and in 2016 it’s going to happen to the psychometric test market too.”

Michelle Mills-Porter is CEO of Ensize UK, a relative newcomer to the UK market, which  claims to  not only measures an individual’s adaptive behaviour, but has incorporated core driving forces into the mix, and can actually identify how these influence behaviour. This dimension to DISC-based behaviour profiling is drawn from the work of Eduard Spranger. Reports such as those provided by Ensize provide valuable additional information about how a person is likely to act, react, and behave in certain situations. Michelle Mills-Porter says that the breakthrough area for many of her own clients has been the ability to assess whether a person will be comfortable and happy within the organisation’s culture and environment, allowing for more successful placing and continued growth of the employee.

For employers, such an analysis will provide great opportunity to develop the organisation based on ‘working better together’. Mills-Porter comments: “On many occasions, things don’t work out the way we would like them to and often this is down to communication. The Ensize Behaviour Style Profile and Driving Forces analysis will deliver a solid foundation or platform to enable leaders, managers, teams and individuals to really benefit from understanding how people who interact and collaborate with each other can actually benefit from ‘being different’. Putting together a team becomes a lot more effective now that ‘you know who is who’ and how prominent qualities come into play.”

With circa 70% of university graduates achieving either a 2:1 or a first class degree, there is a surplus of highly qualified candidates. Matt Stevens, Marketing Manager at  Pearson TalentLens explains that to be able to distinguish between such candidates, companies rely on the objectivity provided by psychometric tests. Cognitive ability, such as candidates' critical thinking, numerical or abstract reasoning capabilities provides recruiters with an accurate indication of their potential to be able to handle the specific demands of a role.

For example, TalentLens have recently launched a new numerical reasoning test, Athena, which contains a new and important feature: approx. 50% of the 21 items are free response items where test takers have to enter the correct answer. Stevens says the chances of guessing the correct answer is extremely low – making the score more accurate.

Athena features:

  • The utilisation of item-response theory allows tests to be completed unsupervised
  • Includes innovative free response option questions to minimise chances of guessing correct answers – improving accuracy of scores
  • The questions contain numerical data in graphs, charts and tables – formats that are highly relevant to today’s workplace

Matt Stevens believes the use of psychometrics will continue to grow - with organisations removing A-Levels from graduate recruitment requirements, coupled with the Government's recent announcement to introduce name blind recruitment,  the impartiality that psychometric tests provide is here to stay.

Kirstie Kelly at Launchpad  foresees that more diverse workforces equals more productive organisations equals increased levels of productivity and profitability. However, she says the future will see a more blended approach. “Psychometry alone will not be the answer.  Multi-signal models incorporating a range of indicators which ultimately drive Predictive modelling will start to be increasingly more likely.”

James Taylor, director of customer development and marketing at Macildowie, comments that the use of psychometric testing has allowed them to develop a better understanding of their clients and their requirements, resulting in the provision of better candidates, with the right skills and behaviours to succeed in their new job. “Research also suggests that when employment decisions are based upon a candidates ‘soft’ skill set, rather than just their qualifications and CV, better hiring decisions are made. Ernst and Young are a great example of a company who recently announced they would now base their initial recruitment process around psychometric testing.”

 Over time, Taylor says they have witnessed a trend shift in employers who are now looking for ‘reasons to hire’ rather than ‘reasons not to hire’, saying the recruitment market is candidate-led and employers should be taking advantage of new talent pools they wouldn’t previously have considered. Psychometric testing can also help jobseekers identify career paths, which are suited to their skill set, which they may have previously discounted.

Taylor envisages there will be a social networking channel for professionals one day, that is similar to LinkedIn, which will develop a resource that allows its users to be tested for their behavioural and cultural preferences. It would then have the functionality to alert the candidate once a suitable job match becomes available. Eventually, he believes that psychometrics will evolve into a test of emotional intelligence and resilience. “These life skills are becoming ever more important in today’s challenging life in the work place, which is becoming increasingly fast paced and dominated by constant change. Today’s employees need to mentally tough to survive and prosper!”